BYU and UCLA play a men's volleyball match with no fans in the stands on Feb. 4. Teams are missing the effect fans have on "home-court advantage" in Provo. (Hannah Miner)

BYU teams missing the true ‘home-court advantage’

“Home-court advantage” is taking on a whole new meaning for BYU’s sports teams with no fans in the stands this year because of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

BYU has been known to have some of the best fans in the country among college programs, including coming in second to North Carolina in the Fox Sports Best Fans in College Basketball poll on Twitter that took place after March Madness was canceled last year. This year, however, the fans are nowhere to be seen and the stands are empty and quiet.

Sports of all kinds have been participating in the most unprecedented season in recent history over the past 10 months. Fans have watched as teams play in empty or nearly-empty stands as opposed to sold-out stadiums and arenas.

“It’s so weird to not hear them chanting for us,” BYU women’s soccer sophomore Rachel McCarthy said. 

The No. 10-ranked BYU women’s soccer team isn’t even playing home games at South Field in Provo because of the weather condition. The Cougars opened their season with a 7-0 win in an exhibition match against Weber State at the Real Salt Lake indoor field in Herriman. All home games leading up to their March 13 matchup with Santa Clara will be held at the indoor facility.

While the men’s and women’s volleyball teams are still playing in the Smith Fieldhouse, the electric atmosphere that the fans typically bring is in short supply. 

“It’s still a home match, but it’s not really home-court advantage,” BYUtv volleyball analyst Steve Vail said during the men’s match against UCLA on Feb. 4. “You can go down and get right back up again with the fans’ momentum. BYU doesn’t have that this year.”

The Smith Fieldhouse holds a capacity of 5,000 people, which will often get sold out, and at times has held over 6,000 fans cheering on the Cougars. With the close quarters between the fans and the court, and the love for the volleyball programs at BYU, the usual game environment at the Fieldhouse is rivaled by very few in the nation.

“No matter what it’s going to affect the atmosphere. It’s loud and there’s energy and excitement,” BYU men’s volleyball head coach Shawn Olmstead said of the normal crowd conditions.

The ROC student section has not been able to attend any games since the rise in COVID-19 cases in Utah County in November 2020. BYU has opted to only allow families of players to be present at the games. Not only are players missing the fans, the BYU student body is also waiting for when it is yet again welcomed into the stands.

“My whole social life is gone,” BYU senior Savannah Ostler said. “All I want to do is get back into the games and be a part of that electrifying atmosphere.”

Fans and teams eagerly await being back together. The presence of fans can change the entire dynamic of a game and is a huge part of the game-day experience.

“Crowds do make a difference,” McCarthy said. “We want them back.”

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